On the Pulse

Keeping Mosquitoes Away: Insect Repellent and Children

8.2.2016 | Heather Cooper

A large mosquito bite on a childs hand.Summer is here and backyard barbecues, camping trips and youth camp sessions are in full swing. Amidst all of these fun activities is often a far less welcoming sign of summer: mosquitoes.

While the Pacific Northwest is not home to the type of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, on very rare occasions, mosquitoes here can carry the West Nile virus. Most often, however, mosquitoes simply leave people with uncomfortable, itchy bites. To help protect your family from mosquitoes as you enjoy the outdoors, Dr. Suzan Mazor, medical director of Toxicology at Seattle Children’s, shares the following advice.

Choosing the right insect repellent

Wristbands, anklets, skin patches, supplements, sprays, lotions, wipes, candles, rings and bug zappers are all types of products advertised as keeping mosquitoes away. It’s best to choose an insect repellent that can be sprayed or rubbed onto your family members’ exposed skin.

“As with many consumer products, there are so many choices on the store shelves that it can be overwhelming to decide which repellent is best for your family,” said Mazor. “Rest assured that if you choose a repellent registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and carefully follow the instructions on the container, using insect repellent is a safe and effective way to prevent mosquito bites.”

Mazor shared these tips to help you choose the best product for your family:

  • Purchase EPA-registered insect repellent that has DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus as the active ingredient.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends products with up to 30% DEET for children over 2 months old. Do not use products containing DEET on children younger than 2 months old.
  • The AAP recommends using products with up to 10% picaridin.
  • Some products that contain IR3535 also contain sunscreen, which might reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen. Avoid using insect repellent that has sunscreen mixed in. Sunscreen needs to be applied more often than repellent.
  • Some people prefer repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus because it is natural oil, rather than a chemical, but the AAP recommends that it not be used on children under 3 years old.
  • Notice how many hours of protection each product offers; that can help you make your choice.

How to apply insect repellent

First, follow all of the instructions on the product label. When outdoors during daytime, put sunscreen on first, then insect repellent. Apply spray forms of repellent on you and your child’s clothes and exposed skin while outdoors, and away from food, to prevent inhaling or ingesting the product.

Remember to protect your faces from bites by putting repellent in your hands and then carefully rubbing it on, rather than spraying directly. Do not apply repellent to young children’s hands because they often put them in their mouth or eyes. Also avoid using it over cuts, other wounds and irritated skin.

Check the label to know when to reapply if you’ll be outside for several hours.

Use soap and water to wash repellent off your child’s skin when you go inside for the day. Wash clothes that have been sprayed before wearing them again.

Store it safely

After applying repellent, remember to store it out of the sight and reach of young children.

“Another step in the safe use of insect repellent is to store it in a place where your little ones can’t get it,” reminded Mazor. “It can be easy to overlook this in the rush of getting the family prepared for outdoor fun, but remember to take one extra minute for safe storage.”

Mazor encourages people to program the Poison Center number, 800-222-1222, in your phone and call them right away if you think your child may have ingested insect repellent. You can also call them for advice about proper use or skin reactions.

“The Poison Center’s highly-trained experts are available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you with questions or concerns about insect repellents and other potentially poisonous products. Their service is free and confidential,” said Mazor.

Other ways to avoid bites from mosquitoes

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks that cover your ankles.
  • Cover your baby’s stroller, crib and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Mosquitoes lay eggs in still water. Once a week, check your property for places where water collects and empty standing water from things like toys, birdbaths and other items in the yard. Turn them upside down to prevent water from collecting in them, or get rid of items you no longer use.
  • Use screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside.

Stay calm and enjoy the outdoors

Even if you follow the advice to avoid mosquito bites, you or your child may be bit. Try not to worry.

“Kids pick up on anxiety from parents and other caregivers, so avoid making your child overly anxious about mosquitoes and their bites,” said Mazor. “Avoid scratching a bite, keep the area clean and use calamine or hydrocortisone cream to treat the itch. Then get back to enjoying outdoor activities as a family.”